When Blake Peters moved into town from Highland Park, the members of the Evanston basketball coaching staff knew they were getting a player who could spread defenses out with his 3-point shooting ability. What no one at ETHS knew at the time was that Peters’ range extends out to 80 feet.
Peters tossed in a buzzer-beater from the opposite free throw line --- call it The Shot Heard ‘Round Evanston --- to lift the Wildkits to a stunning 45-44 victory over Maine South Friday night in Central Suburban League South division play.
The Evanston freshman’s one-handed heave from 80 feet, one of the most memorable shots in the history of Beardsley Gymnasium, produced a mob scene at mid-court and kept the Wildkits on top of the league standings for another week. The miraculous shot helped the Kits survive two turnovers in the final 11 seconds --- one by Peters --- as they improved to 15-4 on the season and 6-1 in league play.
Maine South (14-6, 3-3) was reduced to the role of spoiler in the CSL South race after missing 2 free throws in the last 10 seconds. The last miss --- by Michael George --- came with 2.6 seconds remaining and that was just enough time for Peters to grab the rebound, turn and fire. He hit nothing but net.
The freshman’s heroics came just moments after he panicked and threw the ball away at halfcourt, giving the Hawks possession and what looked like a win.
“I’ve felt like lately I’ve been letting my teammates down, especially after missing that (potential) game-winning shot at New Trier (last week),” Peters said.
“For me, when something goes wrong I try not to get too low, and when something great happens, I try not to get too high. I just told myself at the end that if I got the rebound, I’d throw it up. Thankfully, it went in. I just put all of my power into it, and when it went in I just stood there because I was stunned.
“I always think we have a chance to win. I’ve seen crazy things happen in college and NBA games, and miracles do happen --- like the one that happened tonight!”
“That was a great opportunity for Blake to redeem himself,” said Evanston head coach Mike Ellis. “I’ve never won a game with that type of a shot before. It was just fortunate that rebound ended up in Blake’s hands, and I’m so thrilled for him. His maturity and his poise are responsible for half of his success. I just love the poise he exudes for a freshman.
“We made things as difficult as possible tonight, but it was never a two-possession game (in the fourth quarter) and I always thought we had a chance to win it. I had faith that my players would pull it out.”
Jaheim Holden (18 points) and Peters (13) led the winners in a defensive duel that found both teams earning more stops than in their first meeting, a 61-57 Wildkit win. Maine South also placed two players in double figures, Essam Hamwi with 15 points (on 6-of-18 shooting from the field) and Grant Miller with 10.
Ellis dialed up more double-team pressure on the Hawks in the second half, with the visitors leading 24-22 at the intermission. The result? Maine South turned the ball over 10 times in the third period alone, but the Kits were only able to add 12 more points on their side of the scoreboard.
“Maine South has a lot of offensive weapons, and they’re very well-coached, but I think we talked better than we ever have on defense in the second half,” Peters pointed out. “We were able to put aside what we didn’t do well in the first half and we came together as a team. We played great team defense.”
“When you’re trapping and you have freshmen on the floor, you have to make sure that doesn’t turn into wide open shots for the other team,” added Ellis. “It takes a special discipline to trap and rotate, and for the most part, we were solid tonight.
“We did miss a lot of shots in transition tonight and don’t forget that Blake hit a big 3-pointer for us (in the third quarter) that righted the ship. That was just as important as the one he hit at the end of the game.”
Peters actually sank consecutive 3-point attempts for a 34-28 ETHS lead with 2 minutes, 28 seconds left in the third stanza. But the Hawks countered with treys by Kavin Wattanayuth and Hamwi to cut the lead to 34-33 at the end of the quarter.
Maine South seized a 43-40 edge on another trey by Hamwi but only scored one point in the final 2:17.
The Hawks were playing their first game since the father of senior forward Tommy Gardiner was killed in an auto accident last week. In a show of support for Gardiner, his teammates wore shooting shirts that said “Family” on the back and “Bigger Than Basketball” on the front. Evanston’s players donned warmups that said “Hawks Fly Together” in honor of Gardiner’s memory.
Evanston plays at Loyola Academy Saturday at the 8th annual “War on the Shore” shootout event. The Kits are matched against Geneva at 3 p.m.
Dennis Mahoney is sports information director for ETHS.